Do you know someone whose spouse has died?
Have you ever wondered what to say to him or her?
If so, you are not alone. We live in a society where death and grief are off limits topics; so most people were never taught what to say to the widowed. Even worse, most people were taught that sad feelings should be avoided at all costs. When they come across someone whose spouse has died they try to find a positive spin, fix them, or offer advice that doesn’t work.
Did you know that 85% of things people say to the widowed are not helpful?
Recovery from grief involves healing a broken heart, not a broken brain. The more often people attempt to fix widows and widowers with intellectual comments and advice the more isolated they feel. They might even start to think something is wrong with them because they are still grieving.
Here are 11 things not to say to a widow or widower:
- Be grateful for the time you were married
- You’re still young. You can always remarry
- You must stay strong for your children
- Don’t feel bad, your husband is no longer in pain (if he died of an illness)
- Your wife wouldn’t want you to be sad. She’d want you to celebrate her life
- Everything happens for a reason
- This might be a good time for you to get a new pet or take up a new hobby
- Make sure you donate all your husbands’ stuff to charity. You don’t need any reminders of him
- Make sure you don’t throw away any of your wife’s stuff. You will regret it.
- It just takes time
- I know what you’re going through (then start talking about your own loss)
Although some of these statements might be intellectually true, they are aimed at the head, not the heart, so won’t help someone who lost his or her life partner feel any better.
Try saying these helpful things to a widow or widower instead:
- Ask what happened then actually listen to their reply. Widows and widowers need and want to be listened to. The most loving thing you can do for them is to listen to them without judgment, comparison, or trying to fix them
2. Don’t focus on your own feelings by saying “I’m so sorry.”
Rather, concentrate on what’s happening to the widow. Try this substitute phrase, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through now. How has this past week been for you?” Pauses are OK. Good words to further the conversation are “Would you like to tell me more? ”It’s okay to tell the truth if you don’t know what to say. Your honesty allows the widowed to know you are a safe person to talk to because they’ll know you aren’t trying to fix them.
3. I cant imagine how you feel
No two relationships are the same because they are comprised of two different people. So even if you’ve had a spouse die you could never know exactly how another widow or widower feels. At best you only know how you felt when your loss occurred. Every person, marriage, and experience with death is unique.
Instead, say, “It’s normal for you to feel (confused/angry/stressed).” Acknowledge her feelings and reassure the them that their emotions aren’t unusual and are part of a larger grieving process.
4. Speak her late spouse name.
Widows/widowers don’t want the world to forget the spouse they loved. Offer your own anecdotes about their spouse and how you’ll remember him. (If you didn’t know them, it’s appropriate to say something like, “Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to meet [name]before he/she passed. What is it about [name]that you would have liked me to know?”
5. Just Say Something.
Regardless of what you say to a widow/widower, it’s most important to say something. Acknowledge that their spouse is dead. Don’t avoid the topic. Rather, offer condolences and talk of something you admired about their spouse. People often sidestep the topic of death altogether, which can be hurtful to those who are grieving. Your words and expressions are critical to show you care and are supportive in their grief.